Survivors SPEAK OUT! Amy Zellmer
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
1. What is your name? (last name optional)
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)
Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
February 3, 2014 – just shy of my 40th birthday
4. How did your brain injury occur?
I slipped on a patch of ice while walking down an inclined driveway.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
I knew right away I wasn’t OK. I had an excruciating pain in my head where I landed, and my vision was distorted.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
My physical injuries were addressed, but the doctor felt that I had a concussion and that I would be better in 4-6 weeks.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
I wasn’t in a coma, but I may have blacked out for a minute or two.
8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., inpatient or outpatient and occupational and/or physical and/or speech and/or other)? How long were you in rehab?
I didn’t find a functional neurologist until two years after my fall. He was able to help me with my dizziness and balance issues, which I had complained about to every single one of my doctors. Even the general neurologist didn’t do anything for me. I had only had craniosacral therapy up to this point.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
My injury caused issues with dizziness, balance, gait, fatigue, overstimulation, brain fog, memory, and aphasia. My fall also caused a dislocated sternum, severe whiplash, and torn muscles.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
My life is definitely different, and I have not yet returned to 100%. However, I now have more energy than I did right after my brain injury, and my memory is increasing.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I miss having the energy to do all the things I want to do and to be able to work 40 hours a week. I also used to have an “internal GPS.” Now I get lost easily.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I enjoy the friendships I have made and the opportunities I have had to be an advocate and raise awareness about this often-invisible injury.
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I dislike not having enough energy to get through an entire day, and I lament the loss of my organizational skills and memory.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
Writing has been a huge part of my self-therapy.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
I no longer enjoy crowds and noisy restaurants. It’s hard for me to listen to a conversation with more than just one or two people.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
I am my own caregiver.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I will continue advocating for TBI (traumatic brain injury) awareness. This often-invisible injury is misunderstood by SO many – including healthcare professionals.
19. Are you able to provide a helpful hint that may have taken you a long time to learn, but which you wished you had known earlier? If so, please state what it is to potentially help other survivors with your specific kind of brain injury.
I wish I had found a functional neurologist earlier on in my recovery. It took me over two years to get the treatment I needed for my visual problems, dizziness, and balance issues. Also, I wish I had taken someone with me to my early neurology appointments to help advocate for me (plus to be able to remember what the docs said).
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Our attitude determines our recovery. A positive attitude is a MUST. Even when we have dark days and it seems like we will never get better, we MUST remember that there is always hope. It’s a long road, but the new friendships made with other TBI survivors is worth it!
Amy Zellmer is the author of “Life With a Traumatic Brain Injury: Finding the Road Back to Normal.” She also compiled more than 100 stories for “Surviving Brain Injury; Stories of Strength and Inspiration.”
My story, “Nightmare in the Disability Lane,” can be found in Chapter 29 on page 114.
If you would like to be a part of the SPEAK OUT! project, please go to TBI SPEAK OUT! Survivors Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.
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